07 May 2008

Why no, I'm not one of the Children of Israel, thank you very much

I moved into a new ward a few weeks ago and - because luck is finally in my favor - I'm going to be teaching Sunday School! I'm so excited. No, seriously. I've wanted this calling for ages. It's good practice for me as a future teacher and then I don't have to sit through boring lessons.

I do have one small concern, though.

If there's one thing I've learned about how strange people can be, it's that we're really good at analyzing and judging things that are removed from us, but not so good at seeing those flaws (or accepting those flaws) in ourselves. I find it interesting, then, how many people want to make the gospel black and white in one way or another. Take the people who want to know how far they can go before they need to see the bishop, for example. Or the people who mistake the "culture" of the church for the "gospel" of the church and shun those who drink Dr. Pepper/watch PG-13 movies/how they spend Sunday/who they spend Sunday with/whatever. These are the kinds of people who subconsciously seem to want the church to follow a kind of "Law of Moses" but don't think that's what they want.

These are extremes. I don't know that I've seen too much of that around here. What I wonder about is something I've been thinking more about recently than almost anything else. I'm still not sure how to express it, but writing helps me work my mind around things so here it goes:

The church is more flexible than people give it credit for. I don't think there are very many absolute truths in the gospel, really. Or at least not many absolute truths that will mean the same thing for everyone. Everyone brings their own baggage to the table.

One of my new favorite sections in the D&C is the one about the Apocrypha. Essentially, the Lord tells Joseph that the Apocrypha does have some value and that if it is read with the right spirit, it can be uplifting. This is why I don't apologize for finding spiritual insight when I listen to good music or read a book. Does that mean it applies to everyone? No. But all things testify of Christ.

This, then, is what makes me somewhat nervous about this teaching of Sunday School thing - because the idea that the gospel can be personal and universal is a hard one to accept for some people, especially in the practices and applications of that gospel.

I think this is especially difficult in Utah where some people assume that the exception is the rule. Honestly, I think that the deeper fabric of the church in Utah is a little more difficult to deal with than it is elsewhere because the culture of the church and the culture of every day life entwine so tightly together. We had a talk today in one of my classes about teens who experiment with homosexuality and the girl who was discussing the topic just shut it down. Homosexuality is bad. It's never "right." Whatever. I don't think it's that simple. I really don't. And I think this tight-lipped taboo we have on "touchy" subjects like homosexuality or sexuality in general within the church is a dangerous thing. Where else are boys supposed to go, for example, when they have questions about sexuality but they don't feel like they can talk about it with people in the church/their parents? Of course they're going to go to their friends. Of course they're going to experiment with pornography. And naturally the girls who don't buy the "you are beautiful because you are a child of God" argument are going to develop eating disorders.

You think I'm being extreme? The porn industry makes more than Yahoo/MSN/Hotmail and G-mail combined every year. It boils down to about $3000/second in the US alone.

Ok, so I don't really know what this post is about anymore, but there it is. There are conflicts in the culture around me that I'm not sure I have the ability to confront intelligently right now. But writing helps and. . . hey. So does discussion.


The Nielsen Family said...

Very interesting points Joni! you will do a great job teaching Gospel Doctrine. I was shocked to read that you were excited about it, because that is the calling that scares me the most. I would love to be there to sit in on your lessons. Good luck!

HR Joe said...

You drink Dr. Pepper and watch PG-13 rated movies? Shocked, I am. Shocked! :)

Black and white, indeed. I think you will do well with this calling, especially with your ability to separate the culture from the doctrine. Good luck!

Rachel EM said...

I'd never heard of caffeine-PG-13 movies-Playing frisbee on Sundays-shunners being associated with Law-of-Moses Pharisaical tendencies before. But MAN, do I see it. That's about the funniest strong point I've ever heard you make, Joni. HA!

My one note: the most radical "shunners" I've met, came from TEXAS and OREGON, not Utah. I really get annoyed when people say "Utah Mormon," and instantly apply it to all of us. It's really BYU that you're getting exposed to--not the mormons from Utah. It's like those people that say they can't wait to get out of Provo; all they really need is to leave campus for an hour or two and drive to SouthWest Provo, they'll be in a different land entirely. Ahem. Rant finished.

Joni said...

Fair point, Rachel. I agree with you - there are weirdos everywhere. (And some of them don't even. . . no. I'm not going to finish that. It's too easy). I just think that the challenge of being a Utah Mormon is different than the challenge of being Mormon outside the state of Utah - at least in places where you are greatly outnumbered. At least that's been my experience.